This article was updated on July 5, 2018.
A team success checklist can help you lead your business down the right path. As a small business owner, you can put certain conditions in place that can measurably increase your chances for achieving your company's goals. Here's an outline of what you may want to include in your own team success checklist, based closely on the framework laid out in J. Richard Hackman's book, Leading Teams.
1. A Compelling Team Direction
You must clearly define your team direction in order to reach your desired destination. By defining the end you seek, you'll know "what success looks like" when you get there.
Furthermore, laying out a clear, compelling direction can help you create a detailed plan for the journey ahead. This plan can serve as a vital tool when it comes to motivating your team members to achieve each milestone.
2. The Right People
As a best practice, you should try to avoid creating employee teams that are composed entirely of like-minded individuals who may simply confirm each other's opinions and unspoken biases. After all, teams succeed when members constructively challenge one another, openly express differing views, listen to one another with respect and move collectively toward the best solutions.
Functional, demographic and other forms of diversity can add great value to your teams, as long as members have a real appreciation for these different perspectives. Ideally, you want to assemble deep, conceptual thinkers as well as pragmatic "doers." And you want to have fresh eyes as well as veterans who've seen (and solved) every problem in the proverbial book.
In addition to selecting members who have the required skills and experiences, you should also look for team members who model the behavioral norms that lead to team success: listening skills, open-mindedness, empathy and comfort navigating diversity.
3. A Sound Team Structure
As teams get larger, social cohesion and communication structures can begin to break down. In this way, smaller is generally better. As J. Richard Hackman explains in his book, an effective team can be brought together by the group norms it develops.
Group norms "specify what behaviors are acceptable — and unacceptable — in a group," notes Hackman. If a team norm holds that members must arrive on time for meetings and should always listen to the person who is speaking, then those individuals who are tardy or cause a disturbance may be sanctioned with raised eyebrows, head-shaking or perhaps other, more formalized correctives. Agreed behavioral norms around punctuality, communication and dispute resolution serve as the ground rules for collective behavior and can help team members move forward instead of having to constantly renegotiate the rules.
4. A Supportive Organizational Context
As a small business owner, you should make an effort to nurture your teams and recognize their achievements. You can serve to positively impact team performance by distributing rewards and providing the information, education and training that team members need to succeed.
5. Team Coaching
Coaching can come from someone inside the team or someone outside the team and can focus on any number of areas, such as motivation, skills and interpersonal behavior. Coaches model best practices and also communicate the reasoning behind these standards of behavior. They are crucial supporters of individual and team development, as well as key reinforcers of the team's behavioral norms.
When the five conditions listed above are present, your team will be set up to achieve success. By focusing on these areas, you can work to avoid team dysfunction and underperformance.
Be sure to read part one of this two-part series, Building Effective Teams: Team Underperformance Is Common and Costly.
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